Linen (Gr. Xivov, Lat. linum, flax, linen), a fabric made of flaxen threads. The manufacture is very ancient, and no record is preserved of its early history. It was old in the time of Herodotus; and in his day linen was exported from Egypt to the ports of the Mediterranean. The ancient Egyptians, celebrated for their textile products, not only consumed the fabric largely for their own uses, but supplied it to foreign markets. Its use was particularly connected with their religious and funeral services. The priests were forbidden to enter the temples robed in other than linen garments, and the dead were always shrouded in this material. It has indeed been questioned whether the bandages of the mummies are not of cotton; but microscopical examinations show that the threads have the jointed cylindrical form of the flaxen fibre, and not the flat and spirally twisted shape of the fibre of cotton. The inner wrappings of the mummies are of coarse texture, but the outer are much finer. Some of the work of the rude looms of the ancient Egyptians was extremely delicate; and it is probable that the "fine linen" mentioned in Scripture would compare favorably with that produced by the most perfect machines of the present time.
In the British museum are specimens of mummy cloths thin and transparent like the muslins of India. Some of these even contain 270 threads to an inch in the warp, and 110 in the woof, while the finest work of the Decca looms has only 100 threads to an inch in the warp and 84 in the woof. In all the Egyptian linens the number of threads in the warp is much greater than of those in the woof, owing to the difficulty of working in the hitter when the shuttle was thrown by hand. The coarser fibres of the flax appear to have been employed by the Egyptians for nets, ropes, and sail cloths. The Greeks obtained linen from Egypt, and adopted for it the name of o0ovn applied in that country to fine linen, as also the more general term oidwv; but as the cotton of India came to be also introduced into Greece, the names appear to have been applied to this product also; and finally the term Bvoooc, byssus, supposed to be of similar origin and to designate the plant which produced the linen, came to be used with the same ambiguity. But this last word, of frequent occurrence in the Greek classics, is most commonly applicable, it is supposed, to fabrics of linen rather than to those of cotton.
So Josephus used it in speaking of the garments worn by the Jewish priests; and several of the early fathers speak of byssus as an Egyptian plant, while cotton is known to have been chiefly of Indian growth. In both the Old and New Testaments the use of linen garments, by the priests particularly, is often alluded to; and the fibre, we are told, was applied to the manufacture of cords, lamp wicks, and measuring lines. From this last use of the material, linum, comes the word linea, line, as explained by Isidorus of Seville: Linea genere suo appelluta, quia ex lino fit. Linen was in high repute among the more wealthy Romans, and it is recorded in the life of Alexander Severus, by AElius Lampridius, that this emperor preferred that which was plain to such as was interwoven with flowers, feathers, and gold; and the emperor Carinus is said to have extolled in high terms the linen cloths brought from Egypt, and those from Tyre and Sidon, transparent from their thinness, glowing with purple, and most precious for the perfection of their embroidered work. Pliny refers to the production of flax in Spain and other parts of Europe, and says that in all parts of Gaul it was woven into sail cloth, and that in some of the countries beyond the Rhine the most beautiful apparel of the women was linen.
For the culture of the plant, and its preparation for spinning, see Flax. - It was not until the machine processes of spinning and weaving cotton had been for some time in successful operation, that similar improvements were applied to the manufacture of linen. The spinning wheel and hand loom were employed throughout the linen districts of Europe even into the present century, affording to the females of every family a most useful and genial occupation. In the quality of the fabrics the highest excellence was attained by the French and Flemings, and among commercial products the linen of Flanders and the north of Europe long maintained a high rank. Ireland, too, was celebrated for the general diffusion of the manufacture, especially among the families of the province of Ulster, and the heavy linens of that country, in the form of table cloths and sheeting, have long held an important place in the general trade in this fabric. The first mills in England for spinning flax were erected in Darlington near the close of the last century, upon plans the invention of which is claimed by the French, though afterward, as they admit, greatly perfected by the English. Other mills were soon established, and the British manufacture at last became more extensive than that of other nations.
It attained the greatest prosperity in Ireland, where the manufacture is more generally carried on than in any other country, owing, as it is asserted, to its climate being best adapted for successful bleaching of linen, a process much more difficult and tedious than that of bleaching cotton, conducted very much in the open air, and dependent in great measure upon the condition of the atmosphere. The machine processes of weaving and spinning are not very different from those for cotton already described. To make the slivers into yarn for thread, the tin cans containing them are brought to a drawing or spreading frame, and several slivers are united into one and drawn out, a process which may be several times repeated, as in the preparation of the cotton yarns. The drawings are then slightly twisted upon a roving frame, and wound upon bobbins to be ready for spinning. For the finer fabrics it is found necessary to increase the pliability of the fibres by keeping them moist. This is effected by means of a trough of warm water, which is arranged along the spinning frame, so that the spindle by its rapid motion shall cause a fine spray to be constantly thrown up from the surface of the water. The yarns thus prepared do not equal in fineness some of those made by hand.
They are rated at so many " leas " of 300 yards each to the pound; in 1839 a common maximum was 150 to the pound, but they are now spun of 200 to 240 leas. Such yarn is employed for Irish lawns and coarse cambrics. The finer fabrics of cambrics and Valenciennes require handspun yarns. The yarns are assorted into bundles, which are made up each one of 20 hanks of 10 leas each, and their quality is indicated either by naming the number of leas to the pound, or the direct weight of the bundle itself, an eight-pound bundle being one of 25 leas to the pound, and a two-pound bundle one of 100 leas to the pound. To make linen thread, the yarns are doubled, and after bleaching the thread is wound into balls or upon spools. - In former times the sale of brown manufactured linens was conducted in the Irish market towns (especially in Ulster) in halls set apart for the purpose; and in Armagh, Bally-mena, Coleraine, Ballymoney, and Lurgan the practice is still continued. These sales, however, are only of hand-loom goods, the power-loom productions being sold direct to the merchants.
The great business in these is conducted by private contracts, and through the agency of commission houses in Belfast; and to such an extent has it increased, that a single establishment now makes little of furnishing 2,000 or 3,000 pieces of linen a week, when 70 years ago such an amount would have served the largest works for a whole year. The prices are said to be very difficult to quote, owing to the great variety of " sets" representing the fineness and the variety in the yarns used for the " set." Each large firm has its own standard of rates. The brown linens when purchased are chiefly sent to the bleach greens, where they are boiled in a lye of soda ash, and then spread to dry for two or three days upon the grass. These processes may be repeated several times until the goods are half white. (See Bleaching.) The straw of the flax, which cannot be perfectly extracted in the scutching and cleaning, now shows itself more plainly. To remove this the goods are soaked in a bath of water containing an alkaline chloride, as of soda, and are treated, either after or before this, with dilute sulphuric acid of 2° or 3° Twaddell. The " rubbing " succeeds, which is a thorough washing by machinery, with the use of plenty of soap.
When the linen is quite white it is starched, and afterward dried on steam-heated rollers. It is then ready for the "finishing" process, which is effected by machines called " beetles," or by the patent method of spreading the linens on frames in a stove house, and, while they are gently stretched and carefully handled upon these, exposing them to a current of air which is made to pass continually over them. A finish is thus obtained like that of linen pocket handkerchiefs. The whole time required for bleaching is from four to seven weeks, according to the season and the weight of the fabric. The extreme whiteness given to some linens is often at the expense of their strength, the material being partially worn out in the operation. A fair, even shade, attainable by all intelligent bleachers, ought to suffice if it be desirable to produce the best quality of goods. Linens that are not to be bleached are either finished brown, or are colored before finishing; and some are partly bleached and dyed. Many goods have lately been first bleached and then printed with fancy patterns.
The chief kinds of manufactured linen are lawn, cambric, damask, diaper, sheeting, and towelling. - The countries in which the manufacture of linen is most extensively carried on are France, Belgium, and Great Britain. The principal seats of the manufacture in Great Britain are in and near the West riding of Yorkshire, in Lancashire, Dorsetshire, Durham, and Shropshire, in Dundee in Scotland, and Belfast in Ireland. The manufacture of linen was introduced into the United States by the establishment of a large mill in 1834 at Fall River, Mass.; but the industry has not increased to very great extent, most of the linen goods consumed in the United States being imported. The extent of the linen manufacture in Great Britain is indicated by the following statement of the number of factories employed in spinning and weaving flax in 1871:
Factories employed in spinning only..
Factories employed in weaving.......
Factories employed in spinning and weaving...........
Factories not speci-fied..............
Whole number of flax factories...
Number of spinning spindles.........
Of the operatives, 86,776 were females. There were 1,689 carding machines, 398 combing machines, 67,212 doubling spindles, 35,301 power looms, and 21,861 power-loom weavers. Although there were more establishments in England and in Scotland than in Ireland, those of the latter country were more extensive, and had a greater number of spindles and of employees. The export of linen manufactures from the United Kingdom has increased from £3,852,341 in 1861 to £7,306,153 in 1873. The exports in 1873 embraced white or plain linen to the value of £6,204,800; printed, checked, or dyed, £260,639; sail cloth and sails, £263,276; other kinds, £577,438. Besides the above, the exports of linen yarn amounted to 27,981,042 lbs., valued at £1,622,-216, in 1861, and 28,734,212 lbs., valued at £1,976,830, in 1873. The greater portion of the manufactured linen is sent to the United States, while Spain, Holland, and Germany receive the largest amounts of the yarn exported. In the United States in 1870, besides the establishments for dressing flax (see Flax), there were 10 manufactories of flax and linen goods, the products of which during the year were valued at $2,178,775. The capital invested amounted to $2,325,250. The imports into the United States during the year ending June 30, 1873, of the manufactures of flax (including some articles of jute and hemp) amounted to $20,428,391, nearly all of which was from Great Britain. Jute is now much used with flax to produce the coarser linens.